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Qatar court orders review of Mumbai couple’s conviction for drug trafficking, family sees hope

Mohammad Shareeq and Oniba Qureshi have been in jail since 2019 for trafficking 4.1 kg of hashish. Qatar’s highest court has now ordered the appeal court to review its verdict.

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New Delhi: In relief to a Mumbai couple convicted for ten years in a drug trafficking case in Qatar, the highest Qatari court has set aside the conviction and ordered a “review of the case”.

Mohammad Shareeq and Oniba Qureshi had been arrested in 2019 from the Hamad International Airport in Doha for carrying 4.1 kg of hashish in their luggage. The couple was convicted for the offense and has since been in jail. Qureshi even delivered a daughter inside prison.

However, according to the couple, it had gone to Qatar for a “second honeymoon” — a trip sponsored by Shareeq’s paternal aunt Tabassum Riyaz Qureshi. She allegedly gave the couple a drug packet, falsely claiming it contained tobacco to be delivered to a friend in Qatar.

Since their conviction in 2019, Shareeq and Oniba’s families had been running pillar to post for relief.

In its order Wednesday, the Court of Cassation noted the verdict of the appeal court, equivalent to a high court, was “defective and worth for challenge” as it did not take into account the defense.

“The verdict hasn’t replied for the defense supported with the documents as they hadn’t criminal intent as they were not knowing that the captured matters as narcotics and they were cheated by one of their relatives. This makes the verdict defective and worth for challenge (sic),” said the order, which was originally in Arabic and translated by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in India. ThePrint has accessed a copy of the order.

The court returned the case to the appeal court for a review, where it will be scrutinised under a new bench.

Speaking to ThePrint, the couple’s lawyer Nizar Kochery said the case will now be heard again by the appeal court and he expects full relief.

“When we moved the Court of Cassation to prove the couple’s innocence, we put a series of documents before the judge which included the investigation done by the NCB in India showing how their aunt Tabassum was involved in a drug racket. Also, we had letters from the Indian authorities. The court considered our case and has now sent it back for review to Appeal court,” he said.

Also read: Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad arrests Dawood aide Chinku Pathan in drugs probe

‘Thankful to NCB, ministries’

Mohammad Shareeq’s father, Abdul Qayyum, who runs a hotel in Mumbai, is now hopeful of seeing his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter back home.

“It has been an extremely tough last one year since they were sentenced. My daughter-in-law gave birth to her first child inside the prison, without any fault of hers. My children were trapped because of which they have suffered a lot,” he said.

“I am hoping that after this relief by the SC of Qatar, the High Court will also give a judgment in our favour and they will be released from prison,” he added.

Qayyum said he was thankful for the support from the NCB and two ministries — Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs.

“They supported me throughout. The NCB chief Mr Rakesh Asthana personally met the ambassador of India in Qatar and gave him the required documents. The home secretary also wrote to the authorities there. The MEA too helped through their diplomatic channels just to ensure that our case is heard. We had also approached the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said.

“In the documents with the court, we have attached all the chats of the couple’s aunt, who had gifted them the trip, which shows that it was because of her malicious intent that they are stuck in prison in Qatar,” he said.

Oniba’s father, Shakeel Ahmed Qureshi, had also filed a complaint with NCB against Tabassum and her associate Nizam Kara, on 27 September 2019. The NCB had then arrested six people for allegedly running a drug trafficking syndicate.

Qayyum was in Qatar for over 15 months during the trial. “I spent over 15 months in Qatar. After the sentence in the appeal court, we moved the higher court. It was a harrowing time but this has brought a ray of hope, I just hope my children return home soon,” he said.

The couple had married in May 2018 and gone to Bangkok for their honeymoon. While Shareeq worked as an administrative consultant with a Japanese financial technology firm, Oniba quit her managerial job with a private firm in Mumbai after marriage.

Also read: Heroin worth Rs 1,000 cr, mid-sea ops — how NCB unearthed Pakistan, Sri Lanka-based syndicate


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